Recycling the Past


Posted: Monday, May 10, 2004

A dirt path winds past flower beds, ornamental grasses, and a gurgling fountain behind Matthew White's Victorian house in Barnegat. But this is no ordinary garden.

Concrete cherubs stand in rows like schoolchildren. Antique doors lean against each other. And a cluster of bathroom sinks looks like a back-yard farmer's unlikely porcelain crop.

This is Recycling the Past, a six-year-old, $250,000-a-year business that salvages and resells architectural treasures from old churches, houses, and schools headed for demolition.

"I love the quality, the craftsmanship, the uniqueness - and the hunt," said White, 30, who owns the company with his father, Stephen White, and travels around the country and to Europe to find his wares.

Matthew White's first salvage score came half a lifetime ago. Growing up in Burlington County, he would accompany his father to farm auctions to pick up tools. At 15, he snagged some strawberry pickers' trays - shallow wooden boxes with handles - for a quarter each, then resold them for $10 each.

After dropping out of college, White worked at a variety of jobs - building furniture in Santa Fe, N.M.; washing dishes in a New York City restaurant; crewing on a charter fishing boat.

He bought his 1860s Barnegat house from the grandmother of a fellow crew member on the fishing boat, and returned to his old love of salvage.

He lives on the second floor and runs his business from the one-acre yard and from the first floor, which is filled with $275 brass wall sconces and other antiques.

White recently bought the house next door and its one-acre lot, with plans to expand. But he's not trying to build a corporate empire.

"I'm in business to support my habit of searching and buying and having a good time," White said.

Living near Barnegat Bay is also part of the plan. Although the business is open seven days a week, he still finds time to fish. And the business has helped his social life, too; he met his girlfriend when she came to Recycling the Past as a customer four years ago.

Recycling the Past has four employees, including Matthew's brother, Josh, 27. Josh joined the business after he lost a marketing job at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., in last fall's tourism downturn.

"He's the perfect employee," Matthew said. "I can trust him because he's family."

Josh, who has a business degree, is determined to expand the company's Web site ( to widen the company's customer base, which now largely is from New York and New Jersey. (Shipping costs on heavy items can be a challenge. A California buyer recently asked about a 1940s turquoise sink and toilet, priced at about $850; shipping would run $475, and the brothers weren't sure the buyers would go for that.)

Like the customers,<

Recycling The Past - Architectural Salvage
381 North Main Street, Barnegat, NJ 08005

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